One of the things I love about travelling (and there are many) is the chance to get hold of rare and exotic ingredients I can’t easily get hold of here in England. Being based in London I’m lucky enough to have access to some great liquor shops, and thanks to the EU purchasing spirits from around Europe is generally a painless process, but some of the goodies my friends from across the pond have access to remain inaccessible behind a curtain of expensive delivery charges, customs and duties.
Top of my list when I headed over to the US for Tales of the Cocktail last month was Ransom Old Tom, a gin produced by Ransom Spirits of Sheridan, Oregon. I first learned of the Old Tom last year through an excellent article by Camper English and was intrigued by the idea of an aged Old Tom. After trying Citadelle Réserve, another aged gin, and hearing great things about Ransom I knew I had to get hold of some. Unfortunately Ransom is currently only available in its home state, Oregon, but thanks to a fellow blogger I left New Orleans with a bottle in stashed my case.
Ransom Old Tom
At this point I have tried five modern reproductions of Old Tom, many of which claim to use historical recipes, and all of which taste vastly different to one another. They generally fall in to two camps – highly floral spirits like the Dorchester and Both’s Old Tom, or more aromatic, juniper led creations like Jensen’s Old Tom and “Old Tom Style” (for what it’s worth those who have tried old bottles of Old Tom tend to point towards the more floral bottlings as being the most authentic). I’ve also spoken to many people who all give vastly contrasting opinions on the properties of original Old Toms such as sugar levels and botanical mixes.
I’m not sure we’ll ever have a true idea of what Old Tom really was like – and that’s not to say everyone can’t be right and there we Old Toms that reflected each of the styles now available today – but frankly I’ve stopped caring. What I’m looking for is interesting gins that offer something new to the category, and more importantly can make a decent drink. And Ransom Old Tom certainly offers something new.
The gin differs from all other Old Toms currently on the market in that it is made partially using a malted grain mash – essentially the same as that used for whisky – for its first distillation. This is then mixed with a neutral grain distillation that is infused with juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander seed, angelica root and cardamom pods. Closer to Genever than London dry in production style, this difference is taken further by barrel ageing the gin as Old Toms likely would have been in the 19th century – more accidentally than anything – as they were transported across oceans and plains in wooden barrels.
The result is a very decent gin that really is nothing like any other Old Tom around today. The nose is full of juniper, along with a decent dose of cardamom and some floral and honey notes. The spirit is smooth and slightly viscous in the mouth, with a real whack of cardamom overwhelming the senses at first before retreating to allow a pleasant mixture of floral and citrus notes that develops toward the finish, as well as a slightly sweet maltiness that reminds me a little of the Rutte & Zn Paradyswijn.
Despite the heavy cardamom start the overall taste has the same roundness I enjoyed in Citadelle Réserve that I can only assume comes from the barrel ageing. I’m sad to say, purely because getting hold of another bottle will be tough, that I like this gin very much indeed. Of course no Old Tom trial is complete without testing it in a Martinez and as I expected it tastes rather good, the mixture of juniper, spice, floral and citrus notes working wonderfully with the other ingredients to create a Martinez that at least rivals those made with my current favourites – the two Haromex Old Toms (Both’s and “Old Tom Style”).
- 1½ shots / 45 ml / 1½ oz Ransom Old Tom
- 1 shot / 30 ml / 1 oz Dolin Blanc
- ⅓ shot / 10 ml / ⅓ oz St. Germain
- 3 dashes The Bitter Truth Celery Bitters
- Stir all ingredients with ice and strain in to a cocktail glass. Garnish with grapefruit zest twist.
The Ephemeral cocktail was created by David Shenaut of Teardrop Lounge, and is one of the best new cocktails I’ve come across for a long time. I normally try to avoid naming spirits unless absolutely necessary, but I really can’t see this working in quite the same way without the Ransom Old Tom and Dolin Blanc, a blanco-style vermouth that is sweeter that dry vermouth.
The flavours of the spirits hang together just perfectly, with the aromatic notes of the Ransom being offset deliciously by its own floral notes and the sweetness from the Dolin and St. Germain. The balance of the ingredients is perfect, each allowed to show through without any one becoming too dominant. What’s more, it’s a great way to use my celery bitters that have been sadly neglected since I got hold of them last year, and they perfectly set off the other ingredients. A wonderful cocktail indeed.
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